Oystercatcher, Icy bay, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Oystercatcher, Icy bay, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

So why go to Icy Bay? Well, firstly because it’s such an amazing place. The scenery is superb – National Geographic list Icy Bay as one of the world’s top 10 treasures. Secondly, I’m working on a book on Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Icy Bay is in the park. Thirdly, I hadn’t been there before. 4th, the natural history of the place is so unique. Icy Bay is a relatively new place, with the recent retreat of 3 glaciers, the Guyot, the Tindall and the Yahtse, there are now 4 fjords, filled with the cool waters of the northern Pacific Ocean.

When the area was first explored by European ships 150-200 years ago, Icy Bay didn’t even exist. John Muir, the great naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, visited the area a little over 100 years ago, and Icy Bay didn’t exist. It was a massive glacial wall that met the ocean’s shore. Basically, since 1900, the glaciers retreated and the valleys they left behind were quickly filled with tidal waters from the ocean. Calving from the active Guyot and Yahtse glaciers have covered the Tsaa fjord, and the 2 other fjords that approach the glaciers, with icebergs – I mean, covered – it’s just about impossible to get in there by boat in the summer. Glaciers advancing is a rare feat these days, but these 3 glaciers have all advanced in the last year, a unique occurrence in todays era of global climate change.

Tidal glaciers tend to be somewhat unaffected by global warming, because they’re so impact by other influences, such as the ocean and the shape of the surrounding landscapes – oftentimes they’ll shrink and then grow in a repeating cycle. The St. Elias mountain range in this region, just north and west of Yakutat, catch huge snowfalls every year, so the glaciers are built up over the winter, and their own weight force them forward. Reaching the ocean, they move forward until they reach deeper waters, which increases the calving rate. When that rate surpasses the rate at which they’re advancing, the glaciers begin to retreat, and move backwards, and the tidal waters fill with the basin what we call a fjord.

So as the ice moves out, water, and life, follows, successional plants, like alders, fireweed, and lupine, move in. Fish move in to the fjords, followed by marine mammals like whales, sea otters, sea lions and seals. Birds move in, sea birds like gulls and jaegers, ducks, murresm murrelets, and the one posted above, the Oystercatcher. Animals move in, like bears and moose and mountain goats.

How cool is that? That’s gotta be reason enough for a trip to Icy Bay, right? Well, sure, but I’ll post another reason tomorrow.



12 thoughts on “Oystercatcher, Icy bay, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

  1. Ron Niebrugge

    Hey Carl, didn’t you just promise no more birds!

    Well it was worth breaking your promise because this is a great image of a very cool bird! I look forward to seeing more photos from that region.



  2. Carl Donohue

    Hey Ron,

    Yeah, these birds are very cool. and noisy!

    As for the promise, do you ever listen to Thin Lizzy? They had a great song called ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ – Don’t believe a word
    For words are only spoken
    Your heart is like a promise
    Made to be broken




  3. Mark

    Looks like a great place Carl, with a great pic to boot. You still won’t catch me swimming there though!! I want a personally autographed copy of that book my friend.

  4. Carl Donohue

    Hey Mark,

    It’s more than a ‘great place’ – it’s amazing. You’re a diver, right? you’d love it. I’ll get you abook, but don’t hold your breath. It might be a while. The park is larger Switzerland, and 6 times larger than Yellowstone – so it’s kinda big. 🙂



  5. Carl Donohue

    Hey Ron,

    I found your comment .. You were marked ‘spam’ .. that means you’re on thin ice. 🙂

    I checked out those 2 videos. Way cool. Thin Lizzy were one of my favorite rock bands – they’re probably well before your time Ron – I know you grew up with Backstreet Boys, so Thin Lizzy might be a little hard core for ya. 🙂

    Not many Americans are into Thin Lizzy – they’re more familiar with some of Gary Moore’s solo stuff. But the real genius in Thin Lizzy was Phil Lynott, the singer, songwriter and bass player. Gary was with them for a year or so, really early on (early 70’s), then again in the late 70’s, on the Black Rose album. He and Phil worked together on and off again over the years on various songs – “Out in the Fields”, “Military Man” and “Empty Rooms” are my favorites. I hadn’t seen the Gary Moore solo version here, that’s awesome. He’s such a smokin’ guitar player.

    Thanks Ron,



  6. Ron Niebrugge

    Hey may be ugly, but he can play guitar!

    Thanks for the history. I can’t roll with the Backstreet Boys – but secretly, I still dig some of the 80’s hair bands.

    But then again, this just might be spam,


  7. Carl Donohue

    Hey Ron,

    No – you’ve been removed from the spam list – for now. Just behave yourself. 🙂

    I’ve never been big into the 80’s hair band thing – I’m proud to say.



  8. Beth Lunsford

    You & Ron are a trip!! I know of thin lizzy. I have to agree with Ron that he is ugly, along with Alice Cooper, Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Iggy Pop, & the list goes on. But I love music, so I can deal with it! Great photo of the bird. Very lifelike to view, very pretty!

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